Heart Happy (cathy_edgett) wrote,
Heart Happy

Hitch your vehicle of choice to a star -

In the New York Review of Books, John Banville reviews Robert D. Richardson's book, First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process.

Emerson in his essay "The American Scholar" wrote:

"Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it is their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote their books."

Richardson points out that Emerson was a lecturer. "His writing was first speaking." In that, his writing is practical and applicable.


Richardson isolates a telling and wonderful example of Emerson's groundedness and commitment to the practical. We all know, though we might not really know the source, Emerson's piece of seeming cracker-barrel advice to "hitch your wagon to a star," which might be the title of a song from a Broadway cowboy musical, but which in fact has its source in the philosopher's interest in mills powered by the tides:

In Boston a dam was built between two points of land jutting out into Massachusetts Bay, and a tide mill was then situated in the middle of the dam to take advantage of the seven-to-nine foot tides in the area ... Emerson admired the skill behind the arrangement "which thus engages the assistance of the moon, like a hired hand, to grind and wind, and pump, and saw, and split stone, and roll iron."

Therefore the advice to hitch your wagon to a star - with, as Richardson observes, the emphasis on your - is no flight of soft-focus fancy but a thoroughly practical recommendation. "This unlikely combination of the high-flying and the down-to-earth," Richardson writes, "is pure Emerson."

So, notice the tides and use them and hitch your wagon, or vehicle of choice, to a star.


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